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How to Healthfully Gain Weight

author image Jill Corleone, RDN, LD
Jill Corleone is a registered dietitian and health coach who has been writing and lecturing on diet and health for more than 15 years. Her work has been featured on the Huffington Post, Diabetes Self-Management and in the book "Noninvasive Mechanical Ventilation," edited by John R. Bach, M.D. Corleone holds a Bachelor of Science in nutrition.
How to Healthfully Gain Weight
Nut butters, like peanut butter, make a healthy high-calorie option on your weight-gain diet. Photo Credit chameleonseye/iStock/Getty Images

Most people struggle to lose weight, but some have trouble putting on pounds. To gain weight healthfully, you need to fill your diet with a mix of nutritious fare from all the food groups, focusing on those that are not only rich in nutrients, but in calories as well. If you have an underlying medical condition, check with your doctor before modifying your diet; for help in designing high-calorie meals, consult a registered dietitian.

Get Enough Calories

It's true: You do need to eat more calories to gain weight. Generally, you can gain 1/2 to 1 pound a week by adding 250 to 500 calories to your usual intake. But, because of physical activity and genetics, the calories needed to increase body weight vary from person to person, and you may need to eat more to make the same gains as other individuals. While your goal may be to add pounds to the scale, healthy weight gain takes months, so it's better for the number on the scale to creep upward in a slow and steady fashion.

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Healthy Weight Gain Foods

Getting enough calories is important when you want to gain weight, but your body needs all the essential nutrients for healthy weight gain. Instead of loading up on fast food and sweet treats, fill your diet with foods that promote muscle gain, not fat gain. That means you need to eat a healthy mix of foods from all the food groups: fruits, vegetables, whole grains, proteins, healthy fats and dairy.

The key to promoting weight gain while eating these healthier and sometimes lower-calorie foods is incorporating higher-calorie, nutrient-dense foods into your meal plan. Healthy weight-gain foods include eggs, cheese, nuts and nut butters, seeds, 100-percent fruit juice, milk, non-fat dried milk powder, olives, dried fruit, oil and avocados. For example, you may spread nut butter on your apple or saute your veggies in olive oil to add extra calories. Adding nonfat dried milk powder, which has about 20 calories per tablespoon, to beverages like milk or moist foods -- such as cereal, yogurt, soup, mashed potatoes or macaroni and cheese -- can give you a boost.

Sample Menu for Putting on Pounds

Your healthy weight-gain diet plan should include three meals and a few snacks. Start the day with a healthy high-calorie breakfast. Make a veggie and cheese omelet made with three eggs, 2 ounces of Swiss cheese and 1/2 cup of mushrooms cooked in 1 tablespoon of olive oil. Serve your omelet with two slices of whole-wheat toast and a cup of milk. For lunch, enjoy 2 cups of mixed greens topped with 4 ounces of grilled salmon, 12 pecans, 1/4 cup of raisins, and 2 tablespoons of salad dressing. Serve your salad with a large banana, a whole-grain roll with 1 teaspoon of olive oil for dipping, and a cup of orange juice to drink. A 4-ounce broiled pork chop with 1 cup of brown rice, 1/2 cup of applesauce and Brussels sprouts roasted in 2 teaspoons of olive oil makes a good high-calorie dinner. This sample meal plan has 2,420 calories.

To add extra calories, have a few 250-calorie snacks such as an apple with 2 tablespoons of peanut butter, a cup of nonfat yogurt with 1 cup of unsweetened whole-grain cereal, 1 cup of fresh pineapple with 1 cup of cottage cheese or 1/4 cup of raisins mixed with 24 cashews (ref 5).

Exercise for Healthy Weight Gain

To turn those extra calories you're eating into muscle, you need to add strength-training -- such as body resistance exercises, resistance bands or weight lifting -- to your daily routine. For best results, work out two to three days a week, choosing exercises like squats or bench presses, that target a number of your major muscle groups. Your workout doesn't need to be long, but should be difficult. For muscle-building, your exercises should be so tough it's hard for you to do your last repetition without help, suggests The Centers for Disease Control. Each exercise should consist of eight to 12 reps, repeated two or three times. Consult your doctor before adding exercise to your weight-gain regimen.

Tips and Strategies

When your goal is weight gain, you may need to eat even when you're not hungry. Plan when and what you're going to eat to limit the desire to skip meals. You may have an easier time getting enough calories by eating five or six small meals instead of three larger ones. Also, keep your kitchen stocked with your favorite high-calorie healthy foods to snack on throughout the day. Drink liquids between meals to leave room for high-calorie food at mealtime. You may want to keep a food diary to help you track your calorie intake.

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